Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book News

I got the typeset copy yesterday, laid out as the designer sees the final product. It looks wonderful! It is so exciting to see each stage of development of the book, and even more exciting that it will be in stores in less than 3 months now. All of the photos I took aren’t being used so I’ll begin posting those on the blog for your enjoyment. In the next few days I’ll be proofreading so likely won’t have a new post up until mid-Friday. Thanks so much for your help and encouragement!

The things I’m grateful for:

1. I’ve finished our Christmas shopping!
2. The “I love you” text messages Meagan sends to me.
3. The sounds of Christmas carols coming through the walls of Linley’s bedroom.
4. Meagan falling asleep on my shoulder while watching TV.
5. Linley’s excitement when I give her waffles for breakfast.
6. The old crayon scrawled notes of affection from Meagan I found in a drawer while searching for a spare key.
7. The beautiful vision of Jill wrapped in a towel just out of the shower.
8. The privilege of being the man to stand there and watch her get ready each morning.
9. Hearing the girls ask for “family time.”
10. The invitation to vacation next summer with our neighbors.
11. Having the freedom to shuttle the girls to and fro and attend to their errands.
12. Our good health.
13. The look of surprise in Linley’s eyes when she realizes I actually have a brain.
14. Meagan’s pride in me when she hears someone talk about one of my books.
15. The way Jill says “I love my husband” every day when she comes home from work.
16. The ten minutes of bliss when I hold her close under the covers just after hitting the snooze button.
17. The companionship of our friends and neighbors.
18. My extended family, both by blood and marriage.
19. Reunions with old friends once thought lost.
20. The realization, and honor, that someone is counting on me.
21. When Meagan embraces me and admits to having some fear of leaving home.
22. Linley calling on my opinion when she is sick or injured and screaming for my rescue when she finds a bug in her room.
23. A photo of Meagan in my wallet, one taken when she graduated from Pre-K.
24. The ability to put a check in the mail for causes or charities we believe in.
25. The email I get from fans who over the years have shared their stories with me.
26. The opportunity to live another day in this blessed life of mine.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jill



This is a recent composite I completed to showcase my beautiful wife. I’ve surrounded Jill with images of things she loves or often thinks about. For example, there is a map element symbolizing her love of travel, and the street-level view of the Gastonian Inn in Savannah where we got married. She walked through that front door on our wedding day and changed my life. The trees and babbling brook are in the Joyce Kilmer National Forest in NC, a beautiful, serene setting and one of her favorite places to hike. The hibiscus bloom is often used in Eastern religious art as a symbol of devotion and worship. I am devoted to her and worship the ground she walks on. The white picket fences represents our happy home and marriage. The Lily-of-the-Nile bulbs are said to be the flower of happiness. She is my lily and more.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving


As I walked across the hotel lobby last Thursday morning to get a cup of coffee, I spied a few members of my extended family gathered around a dining table. I walked up and found everyone enthralled with little two year old Noah, the baby of our clan. Sitting in a high chair situated between his grandmother and grandfather’s knees, he was clapping and dancing in place as his grandmother, my aunt, sang to him.

I saw a small bruise on Noah’s forehead and remembered that he, just recently having learned how to walk, stumbled the evening before and fell to the ground. I ran my fingers through his hair and asked him about his boo-boo. He smiled at me and put his finger to his nose, remembering the game we had played the day before. He loves to mimic others.

My uncle explained to me Noah’s medication causes him to bruise easily and then showed me the mark on the little boy’s arm. Noah, realizing we were inspecting his war wounds, grabbed his shirt and pulled it up over his head to show off his chest. The scars of open heart surgery ran across his pale, delicate skin.

That was when I remembered hearing Noah’s mom praise her own mother last week as we sat with a small gathering of cousins tailgating before a football game. She said she couldn’t imagine being able to care for Noah without the help of her mom. I shared this praise with my aunt on this morning, and she spoke of what a blessing it is to her to be able to look after her grandchild.

As I returned to my room with coffee for Jill and me, I thought of Rosemary’s thankfulness for her mother’s help and my aunt’s thankfulness to God for receiving the gift of another grandchild. I thought of this little boy who would grow up with those scars and knew that one day he would be thankful for his mother’s love and support, and the efforts she put into getting him to the right heart surgeon. Just then I was thankful for the skill of that surgeon, the man who gave my family more joyful time together, who saved us from loss and sorrow.

That was when it occurred to me how many people were links in the chain of events that led to repairing Noah’s heart. Someone taught that surgeon how to do what he did. Someone helped that surgeon to get into medical school. His mom helped him study while a child, laying the foundation for the education he would later pursue. Someone taught her how to be a good mom. A dad was there, too, doing what he had to to help pay for his son’s education, a paternal role that his dad had taught him, I’m sure.

I haven’t even mentioned the nurses who cared for Noah while he was in recovery, the minister who stopped by to pray with Rosemary, the neighbors who brought food or the friends and family who made sure Rosemary’s older child wasn’t forgotten during the time that Noah lived at the hospital. I can’t even comprehend how many unknown people were behind each gesture any one of these known people made on behalf of Noah.

I just know that our good deeds are the result of those thoughtful things others have done for us, and our good deeds are the cause of what good deeds our beneficiaries will one day do for someone else. We are all links in the chain of events of life. The good, or the bad, you commit today goes on forever. Only you can decide what your legacy will be.

I took this picture of Rosemary, Noah and Hunter. As I focused through the lens, I thought of how I would leave Thanksgiving this year not only thankful for the food and fellowship I enjoyed, but for the renewed awareness of how we all touch each other. Thank you, Noah. Thank you, God.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

T-Day in 2

If you can believe it, I'm about to start cooking. Desserts today, a hog on an open spit tomorrow morning, ham and turkeys in the smoker tomorrow night, and two large pans of dressing in the oven Thursday morning. No kidding - 80 folks can eat a lot!

Just for fun I put up a new blog, one devoted to photography. Here's a link:

www.biggimages.blogspot.com

Enjoy your health, your family and your time off. Now go out and hug somebody, and be thankful!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

New Works


Here's two new images I've recently completed. I haven't written much lately as I've been buzy trying to finish this portfolio, get ready for the huge Thanksgiving reunion (80 guests), and other stuff that happens when life intervenes. Please stay tuned and I'll share new stories with you when the writing muze returns. Now, let love live!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Upon Transition

My friend Richard in FL saw the "All is Well" post and then sent this wonderful poem to me. Written by his sister for her children before her passing, he has allowed me to share it with you:

Come not to mourn but rather to rejoice!
My newfound freedom gives my soul its choice.
in Autumn, find the brightest Maple tree;
Enjoy its splendor - it could well be me!
An ice clothed bush aglow in Winter's Sun--
This could be me, now God and I are one.
A gold fringed cloud -- a spray of Sea--a flower
A weeping Willow tree--A summer shower--
The sound of music in a night winds sigh--
A Bluebird winging freely toward the sky.
Don't mourn! I am not dead, How could I be?
When now I am All things --Eternally!

To My Children with love.

Wonderful!!!

A brief book update - all the misspellings have been found and corrected, clarity added where necessary, more apt story titles chosen, and the cover has been designed (it is beautiful!). It is headed to the designer for page layout, then to press. Eleven weeks from now, the first copies should begin rolling off the conveyor. Can't wait! Thanks to you all for helping give life to this idea.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

All is well


“Death is nothing at all…I have only slipped into the next room…I am I, and you are you…whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me my old familiar name. Speak to me in the easy way, which you always used. Put no difference in your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, and pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it ever was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow in it. Life means all that it ever meant…Why should I be out mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well.” - Unknown

Friday, November 09, 2007

Departure Draws Near

Last night Meagan and I sat down to review her senior photos and ordered graduation announcements. That's when it hit me - she graduates in 6 months, leaves home in 9. Only one more Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day and birthday left under my roof. After that, who knows when she'll come home. I pray that it is often. The event inspired me to post the intro to the book I wrote for this eventual occasion, Life Maps: Simple Directions for Finding Your Way...

Over the years I have had the delight of watching my daughter, Meagan Katherine, reach many milestones. I will never forget the first time she called me “Daddy,” her first steps, and when she became potty trained. Her words “I can do it” were spoken with insistence; she wanted the chance to accomplish by herself whatever the task at hand. I was thrilled to see my little girl growing up, yet also happy that she still wanted to hold my hand, ride on my back, and give me kisses.

As these early years passed and she continued to grow, other milestones approached and new tasks required mastery. Some I could just demonstrate for her, like how to tie her shoes, buckle her seatbelt, and use the microwave oven. Others required a bit of practice and explanation, as when she wanted to make her own scrambled eggs, shuffle a deck of cards, and later, use a computer. As my daughter grew up and became more independent and less willing to turn to me for what she wanted and needed, I began to feel the sting of loss. Too soon it seemed I was no longer needed to read her to sleep, walk her to class, or help her with her homework. All too quickly she entered her preteen and then teenage years. I knew other milestones were ahead and new life tasks would challenge her, but by now she had begun to turn more often to her mother for guidance, and I struggled to find a place in her life.

One afternoon while visiting my parents, who live on a remote country road, Meagan and I went for a drive. She was at the wheel. She had been driving in open fields for two years by then, an activity meant to give her as much driving experience as possible before she set out by herself, without Dad by her side to make sure she was safe. On this day I unexpectedly found myself requesting that my young driver turn off the familiar road and onto an unfamiliar one——and then another and another.

Soon she had driven much farther than she ever had before. She was frightened when she first pulled into traffic but smiled eagerly at the same time. She listened intently as I gave instructions and advice, following my directions without complaint or rebuttal. She beamed at me when I praised her as she skillfully negotiated the roadway. Under my tutelage she was learning something new. It reminded me of earlier times. I knew something she wanted to know, and she needed my help to master it; she needed me.

I decided that afternoon that driving was the bridge I needed to reach out to my daughter again, to have the occasion to spend time with her in the way that I missed, having fun together, laughing large, and teaching her something that would prepare her for the day when she would set out on her own. For the next three years we practiced driving every chance we got——driving in the rain, after sunset, practicing parking and hard braking, and learning how to intuit other drivers’ moves. I helped her study for the learner’s permit test. I was with her when she took it, and tried to calm her nerves as we waited for her results. A great sense of accomplishment came over me when she proudly held her permit up for me to see, and in that moment I was where I wanted to be, in her favor, basking in the warmth of her smile.

Meagan now drives nearly every time we get in the car. It was on one of our first extended drives that the need arose for teaching her about road maps. We were taking my eleven-year-old stepdaughter, Linley, to summer camp, and I did not know the way. I spread a state map out on the dining room table and proceeded with Meagan at my side to find a route. We began by looking up our destination in the index, then followed the grid lines to pinpoint it on the map. Once located, we surveyed the various roads we could take from our home to that tiny dot. We settled on a route that included city streets, interstate highways, two-lane mountain roads, and finally a winding dirt road. We chose an alternate route for coming back, one that would wind through the countryside, taking us through little town after little town and eventually home. Meagan was excited; it would be the longest time she had ever been behind the wheel.

The morning of our departure arrived. The girls and I rose early and had breakfast at a local diner before heading toward the mountains. Linley got some extra sleep in the backseat while I navigated for Meagan. For the next three hours she and I followed the directions we had written down. I helped her recognize the landmarks we were looking for, coached her on keeping up with the distance between turns, and taught her that even-numbered interstates ran east-west while odd-numbered ones ran north-south. Suddenly she asked me what to do if she ever got lost. I reminded her of her cell phone, and then opened the glove box to show her the road maps I keep tucked away in there.

The three of us embraced before leaving Linley at camp, and then Meagan and I set out on our return route home. We listened to music, drove with the windows down, had lunch at a roadside barbeque joint, and stopped to shop at an old country store, complete with a few old men in overalls sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch. We were having fun. Once back on the road we encountered a detour and had to refer to our map again. We selected a new route for the last leg home and continued on our journey.

As Meagan drove she remarked once more that she worried about becoming lost, that she needed to practice using a map. I realized then that I had less than a year to teach my child all I wanted her to know before she became fully licensed and able to drive off without me alongside to help her find her way. I imagined her going into the world alone, driving to her first job, leaving for college, going on road trips with friends between semesters, hoping she would not lose her way. I thought of all the things I wanted to warn her about, the things I wanted to make sure she could handle, and the many other life tasks she would need to master on her own one day.

As I looked out of the car window, the old sting of loss and worry about her eventual departure came back to me. I know I have to let my child go. I cannot keep her under my wing, not that she would she let me. Yet I asked myself, how do I let my daughter go before I am certain she is ready for what she will face? How do I prepare my stepdaughter, Linley? I thought of Meagan’s fear of becoming lost and my own fear of her losing her way. I suddenly wanted to write down some directions for driving, even for living, and stuff them into the folds of the maps in the glove box. I smiled as I imagined her pulling off the road one day to refer to a map, unfolding it and my hand-scribbled notes falling into her lap. “Don’t drive too fast,” “Follow at a safe distance,” “Keep a diary,” “Laugh often,” and “Come home now and then,” they would say.

In that moment the idea of this book came to me. Better a book than random notes in the glove box, I thought, because she could keep a book at her desk, on her nightstand, in her briefcase, or anywhere else close at hand, ready and waiting for her when she wants to reminisce about what we have done together, when she wants to know how much I care about her, or when she needs a hug and I am not near enough to give it to her.

And so here it is, this book that might have been notes tucked away in a road map, a collection of fatherly advice and directions for living a wonderful life, offered with love to my little girls. Meagan, I hope you will read it when you get lost, when you just want to reassure yourself of where you are going, and when you miss me. And Linley, put your shoes on; we are going for a drive. You take the wheel.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sons and Moms

This is the introduction to Why a Son Needs a Mom, the last of what we call the Big Four, my best-selling books. This post completes the parent-child tributes with the exception of what I'll post tomorrow about blended families (in response to the comment posted yesterday about daughters and moms).

"On my mantelpiece rests an aging photograph of my mother that was taken as she was about to graduate from high school, a few short years before she chose to alter her life and become a mother. She was beautiful then, with hair that fell upon her shoulders, big eyes that reassured, and a smile that warmed. I am told she was energetic, vivacious, and popular back then, when she was young and had only herself to be concerned about. This photograph is my favorite picture of my mother, and although it has yellowed and faded, it has been lovingly displayed wherever I have lived, and serves to remind me of the nest from which I flew, the home my mother kept for my four siblings and me and the bosom to which I always return, one of unconditional love and acceptance.

My memories of childhood include the many things my mother did to make sure my siblings and I were well cared for and happy. Every day began with a hot breakfast, often including biscuits made from scratch, lunchboxes were filled with what we each liked to eat, and dinner always included someone's favorite food. With a family so large, cooking consumed much of her time. My passion for cooking and belief that it is a sincere gesture of love can be traced back to my mother and the way she never failed to bake a birthday cake of choice, bring soup to the child sick in bed, alter recipes to suit our tastes, and make the house smell like the approaching season or holiday. But our mother did far more than cook for us to let us know she loved us.

She made clothes for us, tended to our scrapes and cuts, drove us to our respective after school activities and cheered for us, sought out obscure but coveted gifts for Christmas, helped with difficult homework assignments, wiped tears away and endured tantrums, all the while making sure not a child was overlooked, doing or giving whatever each needed, as though she had nothing more important to do. My mother helped me negotiate my conflicts with my dad, she taught me to ride a bicycle, balance a checkbook, sew on a button, check a turkey to make sure it was done, change a diaper, treat a cold, and years later, how to determine what my own infant needed when she cried. My mother did many other things for me that taken one at a time may seem inconsequential, but when taken all together, made me who I am. She also did things for me that others are unaware of, and knowing her, I am confident I am not alone in that privilege. But still, our mother did far more than these kinds of everyday maternal tasks to let us know she loved us.

Each son eventually presented our parents with a unique set of challenges, and my mother was unfailing in her ability to deal with what came. If she was ever disappointed in either of us, any sign of it was overshadowed by her actions. One son got into trouble, and my mother was there to help find a different path. One fell onto hard times, and my mother was there to help ease the burden until times got better. Another could not see beyond a broken heart, and my mother was there to offer comfort and bring hope. One child became sick, and my mother was there to provide care. Our mother has loved us collectively, but also individually in a way that expresses to each of us, in the way that only a mother can express, that she is, and shall remain, there for us, no matter what. Gone from her nest but never from her heart, fully grown but always her beloved son or little girl, each can call upon her still, and she will come. It is this, her unwavering devotion, her tireless effort to help, her unshakeable faith in our goodness, her absolute belief in our worth, that let us know then and lets us know now, that we are loved.


I am the first of five children, and over the forty-plus years since my birth I have seen much change about my mother, and I have seen much remain the same. Although now much older than the young woman in the photograph I treasure, her eyes still offer reassurance to whomever she gazes upon, as does the gentle touch she gives while listening intently to whatever one shares with her. Her smile still warms, as does her laughter and the heartfelt embrace all have come to expect when coming upon her. I still receive birthday cards, enjoy a favorite meal when I go home, and hear from her the applause and affirmations that tell me she is proud of my accomplishments. Now walking more slowly, her hands less able than they once were, her health requiring more and more concessions from her, she struggles at times to keep up with her former pace. Yet, in spite of these changes, she always manages to be there when needed.

I do not know what my mother’s dreams were, what plans she had in mind for herself as she grew up, where she wanted to visit or what she might have become if she had chosen to live her life differently. I am ashamed that I do not know these things because I have never thought to ask, but I also do not know because my mother has never uttered a word of disappointment about the life she has lived. I do not know of her regrets for she does not share them, if they exist, nor does she lament about what her life used to be like or otherwise give off signs of disappointment about what age has taken from her. Perhaps she has just accepted her life for what it is, thinking it is too late to change it. Or, perhaps she is happy with her life for what it has been. It is the latter, I like to think, because I know my mother has enjoyed being a mother, and a grandmother, and a surrogate mother or grandmother to those in need who have been fortunate enough to enter her life. I know this, because she never fails to seize the opportunity to act like a mom, to be there for someone.

I love my mother dearly, and I have a long list of things I want to do for her one day, but most of all I want to tell her “thank you”. I believe that a child, especially a son, can never express enough gratitude for what a mother has done. I know that I cannot, except that I know what I will do to try. I will do what my mother did for me: I will be there when she needs me, no matter what. I love you, Mom."

Have a great day, and in addition to that daily hug, go kiss somebody.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Daughters need Moms, too...


I enjoy a close relationship with my daughter, Meagan Katherine, albeit one that has changed remarkably as she has matured into a young teenager. Once my constant companion, my playful partner in crime, my most adoring audience, my child has become less enchanted with me as she has entered the initial phases of becoming a woman. Gone are the days of holding hands in public, kissing on the lips, and waking up to find that she had slipped beneath my bedcovers sometime during the night. These treasured gestures of affection are now replaced with brief and discrete touches, perhaps just our checks being pressed together for only a moment, small talk, her need for privacy, and the occasional impatient admonishment, “Dad, I am not your little girl anymore.”

Sometimes I struggle with feelings of loss, and sometimes I cannot resist the impulse to implore that my daughter confide in me, to tell me what thoughts occupy her mind and what feelings beat in her heart. Sometimes I hang my head and worry that something has happened to us, that we will never again be as close to one another as we once were. Sometimes I fret that I cannot understand what my child needs, why she acts as she does, and I cannot figure out what it is I should do for her. These thoughts occur to me when I am alone and my judgment is clouded by my sorrow. Thank God for moments of clarity, when I realize and then tell myself that these changes that perplex me are what should be expected, and what should be supported, if indeed I intend for my child to become the strong, independent woman I hope for. It is then that I accept without reluctance the fact that a dad cannot be everything to his daughter. It is then that I remember so clearly that she needs her mother, too.

Becky, my ex-wife, and I have been divorced nearly ten years, and we share joint custody of our daughter. Meagan lives for a time with me, and then her mom, and back to me. Becky and I live only a few miles apart. We have keys to each other’s home, we talk on the telephone often, share meals together now and then, negotiate agreements about enforcing household rules or extending new privileges, resolve disputes about what we might do differently in our relationship with our only child, and help each other in the care of our beloved daughter. Long ago we agreed that while we did become ex-spouses, we will never become ex-parents. It is as parents that our partnership lives on, and it is as parents that we overcome our own issues with one another to find a way to do what is best for Meagan. It is in that role, as my partner in parenting, that Becky has been most valuable to me, especially as I learn to accept that my daughter is, most certainly, not a little girl anymore.

As my relationship with Meagan has changed, so too has her relationship with her mother. Now her most trusted confidant, Meagan enjoys lengthy and enthusiastic telephone conversations with her mother discussing boys, girlfriend spats, celebrity news, or the latest reality television show. Now her fashion consultant, Meagan and her mom shop for hours, get their hair and nails done, and agree that when a girl packs her bags, she must include an abundant selection of shoes. Now her preferred safe harbor, Meagan turns to her mother for consolation, protection and understanding. As a woman, it is Becky who can comprehend what I cannot. As a mom, it is Becky who can give what I cannot. I admit that I look upon their relationship with an occasional twinge of jealousy, but also always with deep joy and satisfaction that it is what it has become. Their relationship is not only good for them, but for me as well. It is after a late night telephone call from Becky to explain to me what I could not yet see, or to comfort me about my parental insecurity that stings like a bee in my throat, that I am thankful that she is the mother of my child.

A daughter needs a mom for many reasons, and by the very nature of the differences between men and women, some of these reasons may never be clear to me, but that does not negate their vital importance in a girl’s life. Daughters need moms to help them to understand what is happening to their bodies, how to make sound decisions regarding boys, how to care for herself, how to care for her children, and how to care for her marriage. Daughters need moms because they understand that sometimes tears come for no reason, that bad moods may mean simply nothing at all, that chocolate is a necessity, that being silly is fun, and that everything does not have to be practical or in accordance with a schedule. Daughters need moms because dads cannot be everything for them. Daughters need moms to help them grow into the wonderful women they have the potential of becoming. Daughters need moms because without them, daughters will have less in their lives than they deserve.

I am not a mother, nor am I a daughter, and therefore in the minds of some perhaps ill equipped to write this book. However, I am an astute observer, and I am a member of a family. My family, comprised of a dad, a mom, and a child, is not unlike many, if not most other families. It includes laughter and tears, hugs and arguments, surprises and disappointments, giving and taking, and sacrifices and rewards. Although she lives in two houses, Meagan still has one family because her mother and I parent her together, love her together, and compromise with one another on her behalf. It is in gratitude to Becky for helping me to give Meagan a sense of family that I wrote this book.

It is with this book that I hope to give other daughters and moms cause for celebrating what is unique and special about their relationship. With this book I hope that the story of Becky and I will stir other ex-spouses to rally around their children and embrace the role they share as parents, and in doing so, to give their children a family experience, even if in two homes. With this book I reassure Meagan that I understand, accept and encourage her as she grows into a woman and reaches beyond me for that which she needs. And with this book, I say to Becky, thank you. Thank you for giving me such a wonderful gift, our child. Thank you for being such a great mom, giving to Meagan what I cannot. And thank you for continuing as my partner, giving me friendship when I need it most.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

News Flash!

Royalty staements just in - total book sales now exceeds 2,775,000 copies!

Why a Son Needs a Dad

I've been asked if I only write about daughters. Actually, my second book was about dads and sons:

"I am the first-born child of a household that included five children before my dad was thirty years old. Ours was the house that never seemed to sleep, with constant activity swirling around it and within it, and one that seemed nearly to bust at the edges as the children who called it home continued to grow. My dad worked hard to provide for his family, but also made time to be with his children, both together and one-on-one. He made sure the treehouse we built ourselves was sturdy and safe, that my soapbox racer would indeed cross the finish line, and that once big enough to see over the steering wheel, each child, sitting in his lap, got a chance to drive through the neighborhood in their choice of the station wagon or the old pickup truck.

I have many heartwarming memories from my youth: my dad showing me how to hit a curve ball in the front yard; working with Dad on a Boy Scout project to earn a coveted merit badge; handing him his tools as he tinkered with the car or improved the house on a Sunday afternoon. My dad loved to fish. I remember being awakened by him before sunrise on a Saturday morning, and whispering to not awaken my younger siblings, we slipped outside together to go fishing. Standing at the water’s edge we sometimes talked. Other times we were both content just to listen to the morning sounds. In these early years of my life, my dad was my hero.

As I became a teenager our relationship began to change. Like most young people, I considered myself misunderstood and overtly controlled. I wanted to wear the “in” clothes and stay out late with my friends, shirking my chores and other responsibilities. My demonstrations of rebellion irritated my dad like a pesky splinter under a fingernail. Both being strong willed, my dad and I clashed often. My stormy coming of age years were difficult for both of us. At times our disputes were stormy enough that I questioned our love for one another, and I wondered what happened to the man who had shown me how to fish. When I left home I promised myself I would not be like him when I became a man, and most certainly not when I became a father.

By the time I entered graduate school my dad and I had come to a peaceful co-existence. We were different, but we could get along. We would not talk much, but we would not argue either. The emotion between us was warm, but not embracing. I could thank him for the money he would slip into my pocket when he thought I wasn’t looking and for welcoming me as I came home now and then for one of Mom’s soothing Sunday meals. He could tell me he was proud of what I had accomplished. Our relationship was not what it had been, but it was such that I could love him again. “This will be okay,” I thought to myself. I did not imagine then that years later we would find ourselves sharing a deep bond, that I would feel intensely for him, and that I would be giving my dad credit for helping to shape me into the man I would become.

Today, with more years and a few hundred thousand miles under my feet, I have come to see my father very differently. Now being a father having my own conflict with an emerging teenager and experiencing for myself the stresses and challenges I must have presented in my youth, I smile when I realize my daughter and I are playing out the same debates and negotiations my father and I once did. Now, wiser, I know it was not that I was misunderstood or controlled, but that I lacked the life experience to know what risks I was taking, the judgment to get myself out of trouble before a permanent scar might be made, and the understanding that it was possible something bad could happen to me. Today I know my dad was protecting me from what I could not see, and simply trying to save himself from the gut wrenching fear of allowing his child to let go of his hand.

A dad has the responsibility of providing for his family. Sometimes the difficulties of that task go unrecognized and without gratitude. Now having that responsibility for myself -and for only one child, I might add - I look back in amazement at what my dad did. He sometimes worked two jobs to support his family; he pushed himself beyond his education to acquire the skills necessary for a better career; and he never bought things for himself before he did for his children. We ate well, dressed warmly, received gifts, and went on vacations. Even today he continues to extend help to his adult children when he sees it might be needed. I have called him in the middle of the night and he has come to me.

On my mantle, next to a high school portrait of my mom and amid many photographs of my daughter, sits a picture of my dad and me in the front yard of my parents’ first house. He is squatting down, his arms wrapped around me as I stand between his knees. Sometimes as I reflect on what is important to me, I stand before this mantle and look at those photographs, realizing how blessed I am to have these loving parents and this wonderful child. As I think of the difficult years of my youth, I think that perhaps I owe my parents, especially my dad, an apology, but know that they would wave me off and accuse me of being silly. I think of things I would like to do for them, and I look forward to each time I hurry my daughter into the car and make a trip to the home I left so many years ago. I am eager to get there, to kiss Mom, and to sit on the front porch and talk with my dad.

Now having come full circle as a son who once worshipped, then disfavored, and now deeply admires his dad, and being a father trying my best to parent but finding myself always second guessing my abilities, I wonder if my teenage daughter will ever look at me with dancing eyes again. I think the role of being a dad is the greatest challenge and the highest reward a man can have. Reflecting on my dad and me, I know my child and I will have a wonderful, loving and long-lasting relationship because my dad and I have one. I know that in the end I will be satisfied with my performance as a dad because my dad showed me how to do it. And I can believe that I have been a good son because my dad tells me so. I love you, Dad, I do. And I am proud to be your son."

Thats enough for today. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Manic Monday


During this weekend I signed over 600 autographs, set back 18 clocks, worked tirelessly to dissuade Linley from begging me to become the Team Mom of her cheer team, and then Jill and I kept baby Rylee overnight while her mom and dad attended a HS reunion. Jill calls her Rylee-roo and I've decided that means Rylee Rooster because she wakes up at 5 AM. As I took my turn sitting in the rocker, feeding and burping Roo, I was reminded of days past with Meagan. I sent my first final draft to my publisher six years ago this month. Here is the introduction to Why a Daughter Needs a Dad:

"I was born into a loving family. My family is the kind that embraces you, nurtures you and loves you immeasurably. For me the most anticipated event of the year is our reunion at Thanksgiving, a tradition with a thirty-year history. I look forward to the sound of the greetings, the warmth of hugs and firm handshakes, the comfort of kisses and familiar smells, and the retelling of stories of a Thanksgiving past, all of which rush toward me as I first set foot in at the front door. This love I receive has shaped the love I give, and it is evident at its best in my relationship with my daughter.

I have known from a very early age that I wanted to be a father, and particularly the father of a daughter. I’m not sure that I really know why, but I have been certain that I would be blessed with a girl child. My heart has always melted when I held little baby girls or grew envious when I watched them as toddlers crawling into their father’s laps to cuddle. I’ve been touched while listening to women speak fondly of their fathers and moved by the grief of women who have lost their fathers. The love shared between a daughter and a father seemed to me to certainly be special, and was something I wanted very much to experience for myself.

When my wife told me she was pregnant I was overjoyed and quick to believe that the baby would indeed be a girl. Throughout the pregnancy I spoke of the baby as “her” or “she,” never as “it.” When I saw the first sonogram I could tell that our baby was a girl. Even though the doctor said it was too early to tell, I was convinced and thereafter believed my hopes and dreams about fatherhood were coming true.

I was in the delivery room when she arrived. The first person she looked at was me. I was smitten instantly.

After the delivery an exhausted mother slept while Meagan Katherine and I bounded. She slept on my shoulder; her face nestled under my chin. We spent her first night in the world together, asleep in a big recliner. Today, nearly twelve years later, Meagan still lays her head on my shoulder and turns her face into my neck. I still pull her close and make sure no harm comes to her.

Over the years Meagan and I have done much together. We have daddy-daughter dates, she travels with me, and we play together, learn new things together and do sweet things for one another now and then. Sometimes we sit on my bed and look through the contents of the “Meagan Box,” a cardboard box overstuffed with pictures, her artwork, keepsakes and notes we have written to each other. In that box resides the reassuring evidence of our close relationship. Her mother and I divorced years ago and Meagan lives with me half time. During the weeks that she is with her mother, I go to that box often. For a long time I have wanted to capture those memories and put them together in some form to give to Meagan, to reassure her that when we are not together, that I think of her and I love her.

With the same certainty that I had about having a daughter, I have also been certain that the relationship Meagan and I have would be a changing one. I knew, and people told me, that one day she would be a little less affectionate, more interested in friends, less entertained by me, and that she might perhaps even find me embarrassing. It has surely come to pass. Now when I take her to school, she kisses me good-bye, and never on the lips, before we leave the house. I may not listen to my music from the moment the car enters school territory. I am to keep both hands on the wheel, my gaze fixed straight ahead. I should wave just at other parents, and only if they wave first. If I must say, “I love you”, it is to be nearly whispered, and never if the car door is open. Sometimes I go to the Meagan Box to reassure myself.

When I first began this book I intended to create a different kind of “how to” book, a book daughters could give to their fathers to tell them what they wanted from them. I sat and thought of the things my daughter and I have done together. I remembered what my father had done with my sister, and my uncles with my cousins. I asked Meagan for some ideas. Then I wrote it all down. The first time I read what I had written I saw a list of what a daughter might ask her father to do for her (just as I had planned). The second time I read it I saw a list of all that I hope to do for my daughter. The third time I read it I saw myself telling Meagan that she would change but never outgrow me. When I read it the fourth time, I knew I was holding the Meagan Box.

I did not know Janet Moran when I began this book. I literally randomly picked her out of the newspaper where she appeared in an article about a local art college. I sent her my manuscript and asked her to work with me. We met one afternoon to talk business. During this meeting she told me her personal story. She was raised by her single father beginning in her early childhood. She shared with me that she could see herself and her father in much of the manuscript. I knew then that we had to complete this book together. I did not have to tell Janet what I wanted the photographs to convey. She knew herself, perhaps even better than me.

With this book Janet and I hope to inspire new fathers and experienced fathers to embrace the important role they have in their daughters’ lives, and give them the love, nurture and support they seek, and to enjoy that which is reciprocated in kind. With this book I tell my child how very irreplaceably important she is to me. With this book I comfort and reassure myself that I will always have the pleasure and honor of being in her life. I love you Meagan Katherine."

May this be a hugfest day for you!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hobbies

This photo is called "Good Country People." As you know, photography is my hobby, my passion really, so to mark that observation, I'm posting for the second time a story about another dad who has a bit of a hobby:

A Boa and a Chihuahua

I have a few hobbies: photography, cooking, collecting books and writing. The girls either tease me mercilessly or glare furiously when having to deal with me when I’m in one of my hobby modes. If they see me holding a camera they might run to their rooms or break out in their best Paris Hilton parody poses. They roll their eyes if I should suggest stopping by the kitchen gadget store and have been know to throw grapes at me while I stand in the produce section trying to select the perfect stalk of lemongrass or handful of morel mushrooms.

It drives them both crazy when I detain them while I browse in bookstores or get in their way of the television as I rearrange the bookshelves to make room for my latest book; the one I might not have the chance to read for years. As an author of books, a blog, the occasional magazine article and now and then a poem for Jill, I take lots of notes about what I see and hear. To that end, I carry a small pocket-sized spiral notebook with me everywhere I go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard them groan, “Here he goes again,” as I’ve reached for that notebook in the middle of dinner, at church or even while driving down the road. You just can’t control when genius strikes.

One day I opened my notebook only to find Linley’s handwriting. Thinking she had written me a note, I smiled. Then I read it. “Hi, I’m Gregory Eugene Lang. I can be cool sometimes but mostly I’m a boring guy. I need 2 add some excitement n2 my life!”

They are convinced I have too many hobbies. I received a letter from a daughter that decidedly tells me otherwise:

“My father's hobby is having hobbies. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. In fact, I think I would say that my father's hobby has mutated in the last few years into buying things on e-bay for his hobbies.

Lest you think I'm criticizing, I want to say that all of this was quite fun for us as children. Not everyone gets to use beaver skins to cover their playhouse on rainy days. I remember many happy times with Dad, learning about black powder rifles, fishing, camping, doing beadwork, and playing with the lumber he bought for projects that never materialized. He was a boy scout as a youth, and those man-of-the-woods hobbies have always interested him. When he became a preacher he also worked with our churches' boy's program, which involved many camp-outs and Frontier-man type events. When I was little we shot bow and arrows, threw tomahawks and knives, and even helped him tan hides; all in our backyard. Yes, the neighbors thought we were loony. We had one neighbor who rushed his kids inside when we started throwing tomahawks. We were dangerous people, apparently.

When Dad was in his archery phase, the house was littered with bowstrings, shooting gloves, extra strings, whatever. He even made his own arrows once, which means feathers, sticks, metal for arrowheads, and a fletching kit. He also made his own outfit for the Buck skinner stuff he did, so we had bead looms, beads, leather, and a tackle-box full of leather-working tools.

There was also all the black powder rifle paraphernalia. I knew how to load and shoot a black powder rifle before I had the slightest clue what to do with a basketball. Dad even had a gunpowder bag made of deer skin and a real powder horn. I thought all of this was normal as a child. As some might say about me, it explains a lot.

And of course there was fishing. My father had over a dozen fishing poles and tackle boxes full of spinners, bait, flies, and lures. He's really into fly-fishing right now, so I'm surprised he doesn't have tie flying kits out on the table. He probably does. It's not that he goes out to buy all these things either. It's just that when something is on clearance, he gets it.There's also back-packing and camping, and all the gear that would go with that. Whenever I or my friends want to go camping, we know who to ask for a stove, lantern, water purifier, or a survival kit. This stuff fills a set of shelves in the basement.

When Dad finds a new food he likes, he does it right. Take Turkish coffee for instance. My mother now has an entire shelf in her kitchen full of tiny Turkish coffee makers, little cups and all the other things required for this tiny, yet apparently very complicated, drink.

Let’s talk about rice. There's a bamboo rice steamer up in the cabinet, an automatic rice cooker and the coolest little chopstick sets with special rests and dipping bowls.Have I mentioned the books? Oh my, the books. My father cannot pass up a library sale, and his books reflect his various interests. When we were teenagers and had begun to realize how unique my father was, we would read through the titles on the shelves and stand in awe at the variety. His office is full of all sorts of reference books and such, and he shops for antique books on e-bay.I haven't listed all of Dad's interests. Not by a long shot. There are houseboat plans, lighthouses, airplanes, and the list could go on and on.

It’s only fair to add, though, that Dad has passed his hobby jumping and mini-obsessions on to me. When I'm interested in something, I head to a bookstore and get books about it; I go to the library and research it; I go to a store and buy the gear. I get those looks from my husband, the kind Mom gave Dad. Oh well; everybody's got to have a hobby.”

I’ve given both girls cameras which they carry with them everywhere they go. If the truth be told, they probably take more photographs than I do, albeit usually of themselves or each other posing like Paris. They might have gotten the photography hobby from me, but I swear they’ve never seen me with a boa and a Chihuahua.

Have a great weekend! Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Post # 361

Sometimes I can't believe I've thunk of enough to write 360 musings thus far.

This is the last story deleted from the final draft and the last story I can share from the soon to be finished Daddy's Little Girl book project. All other stories are reserved for the print edition to be released in February 2008. The following story has been posted before on this blog in various stages of development; this is the final version that was submitted to my editor. It contains a few details I gathered in an email interview before finally submitting the manuscript back in September. It was originally called "Ella's Shoe."

Sometimes just spending time together is all that matters.

"A couple of my neighbors are fanatical Alabama football fans. Every weekend during the fall they are either on the road attending a game or have a few equally enthusiastic fans yelling along with them at the TV in their living room. On one such weekend my wife and I were invited over to meet their visiting relatives. As I entered the living room I saw Kristin, our neighbor, her sister and dad huddled together on the sofa, pom-poms in hands, eyes glued to the screen.

To the best of my recall, Meagan has never watched a football game on TV. She attends her high school football games for the sole purpose of watching some guy she has a crush on wear tight pants. Yet as we talk about the various colleges she might attend, she quickly rules out any that do not have a football team. I just don’t understand the passion some have for college sports.

But Nina understands.

She told me of a winter in 1975 when she and her dad were on their way to visit a close friend, Miss Ella Shoe. Although she was just barely five years old then, a trip to Ella’s place was a familiar event for Nina.

After a traditional stop at a coffee shop for beignets and café au lait, the daddy-daughter pair made their way to Miss Shoe’s house, singing “Frère Jacques” and “Alouette” in French, no less, in between traffic lights. Miss Shoe’s was the most exciting house the little girl had ever seen in her short life. It was tall, round, and smelled of popcorn, roasted peanuts, and bubble-gum. Everyone entering the house were dressed in purple and gold, and like Nina, other little girls carried their own purple and gold pom-poms.

Although the surroundings could be overwhelming, Nina knew she was safe with her dad, who, she imagined then, was taller and stronger than everyone else in the house. That’s why she wasn’t afraid when the two-legged tiger came over and patted her on the head.

She may not have understood what was happening on the court below, but she did know she was supposed to cheer for the people who wore the purple and gold uniforms. They were, after all, Miss Ella’s children. When she and her dad weren’t cheering, they shared popcorn and soda and took turns looking through their binoculars for the faces of family and friends in the crowd.

After the game, Dad scooped up a tired Nina and carried her to the car where she slept during drive home, dreaming of being a cheerleader and dancing with Mike the Tiger.

Years later, Nina, ever the fan, graduated from LSU. Her dad still lives in Louisiana and she visits him whenever she can. Should she arrive during basketball season they go see a game, stopping on the way at the same coffee shop for beignets and café au lait. Of all her LSU sports memorabilia, her favorite items are the old ticket stubs from when she and her dad sat in those seats on Row L, Section M19. That is where her first memories of fun with dad were made."

Point of interest - Kristin sat with Jill and I on our porch last night to hand out candy. She's looking forward to this weekend; it seems Alabama is facing LSU in a must see game. She'll be there!

Update: Later today I am sending the corrected copy edited version of the book to the copy editor. From her hands it will go to the designers who will layout the pages and create the cover. I'll get a copy of that to review and sign off on, and then the books goes into final production. If all goes well, the book should be a tangible reality in three months and one week: February 6th. Can't wait!

To answer a question I've received a few times - the names in the stories posted on this blog are the actual names of the story-teller. The names in the book are pseudonyms, used to protect the privacy of all parties associated with any one story. Even though only a few of you asked for anonymity, we came to believe it was best for all after realizing potentially a million books will go into circulation. Just how many times do you want to be stopped on the way to the bathroom by someone shouting across the restaurant, "Hey Greg, I read about that time when you were on TV with a booger hanging out of your nose!"